Make repairs to ensure housing for low-income families
State housing officials say they are having difficulty maintaining public housing units because of limited funding.
HAWAII'S increased real estate prices should put affordable housing at the top of the upcoming Legislature's agenda. That should include providing incentives to build homes as well as funding repairs of public housing units
that now stand vacant, despite lengthy waiting lists of low-income people.
Governor Lingle told the real estate industry last week that she will renew her proposal that legislators increase the threshold from the current 80 percent to 140 percent -- $92,000 for a couple -- of the state median income that qualifies a family to buy a home built with state subsidies. Incentives to build housing at various price levels would help stabilize prices at all levels by reducing the housing shortage.
The governor also asked this year's Legislature for $10 million to renovate public housing, but the state Housing Community Development Corp. received only $2 million for this year and $3 million for 2006 for repairs and maintenance. Thousands of people are on waiting lists for federally funded housing and will be for years, but 760 of the 5,363 units statewide are vacant. About half of those empty units need major repairs to become livable.
In 2002, Michael Liu, assistant secretary of housing and urban development, forced the state agency's board members and top administrators to resign because of mismanagement. The new board worked with federal officials to address numerous problems included in a memorandum of agreement with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, including maintenance and new capital improvements, according to Lingle.
HUD placed the Hawaii agency in "troubled" status last year. State housing officials responded by assigning state crews that maintain schools to work weekends and holidays repairing public housing units. The state agency also might ask that convicts do gardening and grounds work to free up maintenance crews. The agency's status was improved to "standard" in November.
The agency might have difficulty making repairs on vacant units at a pace faster than other units become vacated because of deterioration. Many of the vacancies are in complexes that were built in the 1950s, and most were built in the 1960s and 1970s.
Bob Nakata, a former state senator affiliated with Solidarity for the Homeless, said increased state funding is critical in renovating public housing. Others suggest that different approaches be taken to tackle the problem.
Sen. Ron Menor, chairman of the Senate Commerce, Consumer Protection and Housing Committee, has recommended that the housing agency be split in two, with one agency devoted to managing and maintaining public housing and the other focusing on developing and financing other affordable housing alternatives. Michael Ullman of Oahu Continuum of Care suggests the state considering privatizing some maintenance services.
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